Baking Blog

Is There REALLY a Difference Between Salted & Unsalted Butter?

Butter is one of the most important ingredients in my kitchen. I use it in baking and cooking, as well as to top everything from toast to steak. You know it's delicious, but do you know the difference between salted butter and unsalted butter? 

Half Stick of Butter

Salted vs. Unsalted Butter: What's the difference?

When you go to the store, you'll see two main types of butter: salted butter and unsalted butter.

Salted butter

Salted butter has a small quantity of salt added to it. Salt enhances the natural flavor of the butter, but it also acts as a natural preservative and that's the reason salt was historically added to butter in the first place. 

Unsalted butter

Unsalted butter, also known as "sweet butter" or "sweet cream butter," is butter that has no salt added to it after churning. It has the slightly sweet flavor — hence the name — of the cream used to make it. 

Which butter should I use?

By now, you're probably wondering which type of butter you should use, and if it will make a difference in your recipe. After all, don't most recipes contain salt?

Unsalted butter is the preferred butter for baking and cooking.

This is because it is extremely difficult to gauge the amount of salt that has been added to salted butter, and there is a possibility that the additional salt could turn your perfectly balanced recipe into one that is just too salty. Unsalted butter ensures that you exactly how much salt will be in your finished dish.

Salted vs Unsalted Butter: What's the Difference?

However, in most recipes, you won't notice the difference.

The general rule of thumb is that a ½ cup of salted butter contains about ¼ teaspoon of additional salt. So in most recipes — a batch of chocolate chip cookies, for example — you're not going to notice the difference between cookies made with salted butter and cookies made with unsalted.

But in some recipes, the extra salt can make a big difference.

For a bread recipe where the rise is partly controlled by the amount of salt in your dough, or for someone who is sensitive to sodium or watching their intake, that small amount of salt actually can make a difference. 

What if I only have salted butter?

If you only have salted butter on hand to use in your baking and cooking, simply reduce the amount of salt in your recipe by ¼ teaspoon for ½ cup of butter you are using. This will make up for the added salt, so you'll still end up with a balanced recipe in the end. 

So, when should I use salted butter?

A better use for salted butter is as a spread or a topping for finished dishes. It's even better than unsalted butter for spreading on rolls, breads, steaks and other finished foods, as a little bit of extra salt will highlight the dairy sweetness of the butter against the food that you put it on!

Since most of the butter that I use goes into baked goods, I tend to only keep unsalted butter in my kitchen. When I am in need of salted butter, I simply add a pinch of sea salt to softened unsalted butter and stir it in with a knife. I love the added texture of sea salt, plus a little bit of it can go a long way toward flavoring your butter. 

11 Comments

Ellen_L

Thank you. The article is enlightening and useful, and I suspect many of us did not know.

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Mary

I was always told that by using unsalted butter it war free from off flavors because salted butter can mask off flavors. I don’t know if off flavors is the right word.

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Barbara Straley

I’ve always wondered if it made a difference. Thank you for the explanation!

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Yvonne Chappell

Thank you, this information has been really informative and helpful. My husband has to have low salt fir his health and now I know how to keep it low when cooking. Great piece of information.

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Gerda

I live in The Netherlands and in our country Unsalted Butter is the standard. Offcourse we can buy salted butter. Our margarine is also unsalted, so when I taste margarine in Canada it always tasts salty because I’m not used to that taste.

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Rita G

I only have salted butter on hand therefore, I always used salted butter regardless of recipe instructions. What difference does it make? Now I have a complete understanding of why, where and when to use salted or unsalted butter. With my husband and myself being on a low salt diet, unsalted butter will now be used and when salted batter is needed, I will use your trick w/sea salt. Thank you for your time for this very useful information.

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Barbara Jackson

When “dump cakes” first made an appearance eons ago, I made a pineapple dump cake to take on a weekend getaway. The last ingredient was a cut up cube of sweet butter distributed over the top of the cake before baking. I didn’t have sweet butter, so I used salted. I thought, “What’s the difference? Butter is butter.” Wrong! To say the cake was salty is a gross understatement! It was inedible. We had a good laugh, and I learned a good lesson.

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Ben

It’s interesting that is seems salted butter is much more popular in the USA than in Europe. I can rarely find it in Germany!

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jeanette

???? Clearly salted butter is going to taste saltier than unsalted. The real difference between the two when baking is due to the difference in water content. Salted butter has a higher water content than unsalted. The added salt also affects the development of gluten in the flour. Did anyone do any research at all for this article?

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Hary

I agree with Ben. Salted butter is much more popular in the USA than in Europe. I can rarely find it in Germany! Well, I too cant find that here in India.

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Hogg

Now I have a complete understanding of why, where and when to use salted or unsalted butter. Thank you for sharing this wonderful wisdom.

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